Around this time last year, restaurateur Shannon Wynne’s Mudhen Meat & Greens made its debut at the Dallas Farmers Market, bringing healthy fare influenced by the produce it is literally surrounded by to the land of burgers and barbecue. Perhaps not surprisingly, it appears as if Dallas has been longing for a place where they can enjoy great food that isn’t too heavy or “unhealthy.”
In the latest installment of One Year In, Eater caught up with Mudhen’s Chef Suki Otsuki to learn more about Dallas’ expectations for healthy fare, the most important lessons learned in year one, and what diners can look forward to in 2017.
Was it difficult to convince Dallasites that healthy food can also taste really good?
I wouldn't say it has been difficult, the nice surprise is when guests eat something and are then blown away at how tasty clean food can be. Usually when you're dining at a place like Mudhen, you're anticipating a certain experience and imagining sacrificing flavor in the name of health. And I think our guests are pleasantly surprised when they're introduced to new ingredients and flavor that is healthful without compromise.
What were some of the biggest lessons that you learned in the first year?
We have had to continue exploring our menu goals with ingredients to ensure we are keeping things seasonal. Our goal has been to keep it interesting without heading too far off the beaten path and getting 'weird' with it. The build-a-bowl portion of our menu has been such a fan favorite that we try to keep the vegetable mix exciting. With a blend of simple vegetables that remind you of mama's home cooking, to more rare produce that perhaps guests haven't experienced before, there's something for everyone.
How have you contended with making menu decisions based on the bounty of the farmer's market? Has that been easier or more challenging than you thought?
There is quite a bit of convenience with being in the farmer's market. As a chef, it is wonderful to have the opportunity to explore and meet with new farmers to develop relationships. The challenge is often low volume from local growers that isn't always enough for a restaurant of our size. However, to be able to support them regardless and supplement with produce from other sources is still very valuable. Most often, the convenience is when you need something last minute. For instance, when you sell more juices than you anticipated and can just hop over to the market and grab organic kale and beets.
What is Mudhen's most popular dish?
Our top seller is our bison meatloaf on the build a bowl. But another fave is the Mudhen spring roll appetizer. We wrap high nutrient kelp noodles, cabbage, cilantro and a big chunk of avocado into a crisp organic collard leaf. It is like a really fresh spin on a traditional rice paper spring roll. I think it's a perfect appetizer because of the crisp crunch, and doesn't fill you up before you get into your meal.
What's one dish that just didn't inspire enough love to stick around?
When we opened, we had a whole bronzini on the menu. It was pan steamed and served with a cilantro-fresno chutney that I thought was just awesome. Definitely a portion for two or three that you could share with a couple sides of vegetables. We really loved it and thought it was such a perfect, healthful dish — tender and aromatic and perfectly light. But it wasn't a crowd favorite so we had to let the idea go.
What will 2017 bring for Mudhen Meat & Greens?
I haven't quite seen any 2017 food trends that I have latched onto,though I focus on keeping up with food trends and stay inspired by freshness. What I have noticed most recently is an influx in guests who have begun Whole30, probably a new year- new you type mentality, which is great. Fortunately, Mudhen's menu offerings cater to that dietary lifestyle,and that will be an area I will focus on fulfilling.